It’s hard to imagine a world without them, a world where you can’t instantly ping a colleague for an update or drop a relevant gif poking fun at the boss. Even before remote work, chat apps like Slack, G-chat, and Microsoft Teams had already begun to replace nearly all other intra-company communication. According to GlobalWebIndex data, between 2012 and 2019, the incidence of global professionals using work-related apps doubled. While email transformed workplace communication with the spread of the internet, apps have furthered this evolution alongside modern technology. 


Chat apps are now close to replacing email altogether. And for a good reason. Chat apps have enriched the communication experience for co-workers and have been a critical tool in supporting the remote work transition. Chat apps go much further than merely allowing workers to send messages back and forth. With the ability to utilize things like cloud storage, large file transfer systems, chatbots, and API integration across endless platforms and services, the benefits have certainly built a bridge to better communication in our remote, digital world. 


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After all, while Slack certainly has tightened the lines of communication compared to electronic mail, it has come with its fair share of, well, slack. Endless pings and digressions create distractions, lack of productivity, and undue stress. 


Here are the top reasons chat apps are disruptive:


Information gets buried in threads


With the endless noise in chat apps, it’s easy to miss important messages. Channels hosting multitudes of people too quickly move on without everyone keeping up. If people aren’t active on the app to constantly monitor a given channel, information gets lost in the endless dialogue. What’s more, multiple topics often get shuffled together inside channels, leading to confusion and distraction. 


Amidst the mess of content, conversations can’t help but be disorganized. This has led to less and less effective collaboration via chat apps. While Slack was initially used primarily for group threading, the company has shared that upwards of 70% of messages sent in the app are now private messages. When communication amongst teams breaks off into one-on-one conversations, knowledge gets siloed, and transparency suffers. And team communication ends up fracturing further into emails, meetings, and documents.


The “pings” demand your attention, limit productivity, and harm mental health


According to research from the University of California and Humboldt University, workers can lose up to 23 minutes on a task every time they are interrupted. 


Endless notifications interrupt productivity because chat apps actually encourage people to be constantly distracted. From a neuroscience perspective, messenger-based systems tap directly into how humans seek to reward themselves, but they lead to more stress in the long run. By design, chat features make us feel informed, and in turn, valued, but simultaneously we feel fearful that we’ll be out of the loop and ill-informed if we leave a message unchecked. And even though very few messages truly require instant attention, the urgency to follow and pressure to respond immediately wreaks havoc on productivity and mental health. 


Chat apps are used for corporate surveillance 


Whether in an official way or not, watching how active a user is on Slack has become somewhat of a benchmark for attendance in the remote work normal. This has led employees to fear stepping away from their computers and not responding immediately. 


Any Slack user can look up the most active users on the team based on activity. And beyond keeping track of “attendance” by noting the green or red dot next to a given user’s name, both admins and owners can track, investigate and modify user data. Admins and users can download public messages, archive public channels and links to files included in any public channel and even delete logs. 


And while only workplace owners can apply to see private channels and direct messages “as needed and permitted by law,” the reality is what’s private could not necessarily be for your eyes only. Workplace owners first have to apply to use this export tool, but once approved by Slack, they can schedule exports to see any and all private messages. 


Replace fragmented communication with rich collaboration


While chat apps have certainly been critical in our transition to the hybrid digital-office environment, the fragmented nature of these communication tools is, in fact, limiting our ability to work together effectively and healthily. As the demands of remote work continue to place pressure on work-life balance, the time has come to prioritize focused work without the fear of missing something important or being watched. 


As email paved the way for the likes of Slack, chat apps are opening new possibilities for more robust remote work solutions. Virtual work platforms and whiteboard solutions already envision a world where all your relevant information finds you and collaboration supports communication, not the other way around. Perhaps a world without the endless pings, distractions and fear, is closer than we know. 


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